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Change of attitude to instruments


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#16 BadStrad

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Posted 20 July 2017 - 17:06

Hand crafted is more expensive because of the time it takes to make something; the lack of bulk discount when purchasing supplies; people will pay a premium for quality goods (though hand crafted doesn't always mean high quality) or for something individual and like musicians there is an element of the cost of training and upkeep of equipment.

Cheap clothes and other goods are made in part or whole by automated processes which, while expensive to set up churn out so many items an hour that the cost per item becomes relatively trivial after a while. Machines can work twenty four hours a day, they don't have tea breaks or need space for a canteen or require wages. Seamstresses for cheap clothes are often based in countries with very low hourly wages and less regulation on hours worked and other working conditions.
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#17 Flossie

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Posted 20 July 2017 - 18:08

I think that the quality of entry level instruments has generally gone down, so it is probably not surprising that a lot of people are doing an upgrade before grade 8 rather than after.  Quite a few of the current entry level flutes (e.g. the TJ Vivace, Packer models, TJ10x, Jupiter) lack the flexibility, articulation and colour palette that is required for grade 8.  That said, there are a lot of people who do upgrade before it is necessary and before they have the skills to really select the instrument which best suits them.  Upgrading too early can often lead to another upgrade or sideways move around grade 8 when the player discovers that e.g. the Miyazawa that they were told they had to have because Joe Bloggs in orchestra had one doesn't really suit them and they get on much better with a Powell or whatever.  A poorly chosen upgrade instrument can end up being just as limiting as a starter instrument if it doesn't suit the player, and for that reason I generally discourage early upgrades.  

 

I have on three occasions upgraded because my instrument was not capable of doing what was needed.  The first was in 6th form when I switched from an old silver-plated Boosey and Hawkes flute which my teacher could no longer play (yes it was that bad!) to a borrowed silver tube Pearl.  The B&H flute got condemned by the music service as being uneconomical to repair and maintain.  I then had a period of a few years without a flute while I saved up to buy my own (the downside of having had county music service instruments).  I got another Pearl but it was a downgrade from the one I'd had on loan because it was what I could afford.  Returning to lessons 10+ years later the Pearl was fine to start with but then ended up needing to be replaced for two reasons: 1) the mechanism had worn out and it was needing to be fixed every couple of months and 2) the flute was not capable of the range of tonal colours I wanted (and wasn't for my teacher either).  I upgraded to my current silver tube flute which I've had for around 8-10 years and I don't anticipate upgrading again, .  With viola I upgraded from a starter Primavera model (sold as being suitable until grade 3-4) at around grade 7.  At this point neither my teacher nor myself could get the desired response and tone quality out of the Primavera, and the bow had already been upgraded as an interim measure.  My violin/viola teacher is conservatoire trained, plays professionally, has students who get into conservatoires themselves and has prepared students for exams right up to FRSM - so for her to be unable to get the desired sound from my viola really did suggest that the problem was the viola more than me.  There was also a second issue that the Primavera was too large for me (it was a 15.5 inch, I now play a 15 inch) and this was restricting my vibrato and causing shoulder problems.  My violin has never been upgraded (apart from the bow) and is unlikely to be.


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#18 flobiano

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Posted 21 July 2017 - 13:00

This reminds me of how, in about 1980 (I was 7) my Aunt and Uncle came to visit us from Finland. My Uncle, a piano teacher and organist, was so horrified at the condition of the piano me and my sister were learning to play on that he pretty much marched my Dad down to the music shop and insisted that we were bought a proper one.  I still have that "new" piano that took my sister to Grade 7 and me to Grade 8 (twice), despite being in storage for over a year it basically is a good piano and (unless I win the lottery and can buy a grand plus a house big enough to put it in) I suspect that I will have it for the rest of the my life!

 

My first oboe was definitely a starter instrument, it got me past grade 5 but it would have been a struggle to go higher with it.  Upgrading definitely made a huge step change in my tone and intonation.  I could probably have got away with keeping this instrument to beyond Grade 8 but I decided to upgrade again when the opportunity arose.  I think it did, again, make a step change in my playing but most importantly it feels so much nicer and easier to play that I think it was worth putting that money into a hobby that I spend a lot of time doing and which brings me lots of pleasure.  I have no idea whether I'll upgrade again, I am sure that this oboe is capable of seeing me out for the rest of my playing days!

 

I still have the first flute that my parents bought me - probably around 1983.  I took grade 5 in about 1986 and my teacher then suggested that to go higher I would need to upgrade from the student model.  I ended up getting a new head joint instead of a new flute and that took me, eventually, up to Grade 7.  Which shows that even 30 years ago there was an expectation that you would upgrade a student instrument after grade 5.  But maybe it is the internet and the ease of doing more research  of what is available that makes it feel more prevalent now?


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#19 cestrian

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Posted 21 July 2017 - 13:22

Veering OT, I know, but on the subject of now v former times I wonder how the learning and listening dynamic has changed our readiness to pick up and learn too. 200 years ago I would imagine there was loads of music around but obviously not streamed through an iPod. Which means...perhaps...more people were motivated to play?? It always amazes me that some of the great pieces might only have been listened to by a small number of people and then perhaps only once or, if they were lucky, a few times. Most music will likely have been folk stuff and small ensembles so more fiddles and flutes than viols etc. One of my 19th century ancestors was a violin maker, according to the 1851 census, but there's no record of his having made anything of note.

 

Back to the topic though, I suspect that instrument quality wasn't a huge issue for those folk players in small ensembles and my great, great, great uncle made them their instruments while telling tales of thwarting Napoleon at the Siege of Toulon.


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#20 erard

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Posted 11 August 2017 - 18:17

An interesting discussion!  Sometimes the motivation for a more expensive instrument is to give the player more pleasure - just as many people own cars far more expensive than the minimum to get them safely to their destination.  But rather than honestly say 'I really like this and I can afford it' people start justifying why they need an upgrade.

 

I think there may also be much more emphasis on specifications now - rather than getting an instrument which can give a nice sound and then working with it we are sold things with gold plated go-faster stripes on the open hole low Cbb trill key.  Perhaps people also expect to be able to pick up any instrument rather than having one and knowing how to work with all its quirks.


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#21 polkadot

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Posted 11 August 2017 - 22:26

Sometimes the motivation for a more expensive instrument is to give the player more pleasure

Indeed!  In fact it was buying a lovely wood recorder just because I liked the look of it (I didn't play but I do collect all sorts of beautiful wood items) that got me on my musical journey, as it eventually led to me re-learning the recorder, then transferring to learning the clarinet, then theory, then piano. And all because I bought a recorder for the pleasure of looking at it! :D


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#22 Acciaccatura

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Posted 13 August 2017 - 17:59

Does anyone actually know how much, in comparable terms, musical instruments cost in the past? 

It might be interesting, though, to see how accessible a musical instrument was, compared to a set of clothing. 

I'm not even sure how much things have changed since, say, my grandparents' youth. Again, back then, they also weren't paying for upmarket mobile phones, and their housing costs were much smaller relative to food-costs than is the case today.

 

According to my grandmother, a new upright piano cost about half a year's worth of her father's not bad engineer's salary in Germany in 1960s. A violin (just "a violin" that was the only one in the shop) cost about ten times less. They did buy a piano in the end - a secondhand Blutner, but both daughters playing was a question of asserting their middle-classness for the parents, and the need for a piano competed with a television and a motorcycle. 


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#23 erard

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Posted 13 August 2017 - 21:43

There is an interesting table here showing the prices of Steinway pianos since 1900.  I find the second link useful to then compare the price with inflation and changes in wages. 

 

http://www.steinwayb...ianos-5789.html

 

https://www.measurin...lativevalue.php

 

Other old brochures which may be of interest are Morley's new and second hand harps http://0035926.netso...rochure1894.pdf

 

and Lyon and Healy's 1894 catalogue of Rare Old Violins (some of the descriptions are rather fun - no 714: German, very old, inferior work $35).  https://books.google...epage&q&f=false


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#24 elemimele

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Posted 13 August 2017 - 21:56

ooh, thanks Acciaccatura and Erard.

The piano/engineer comparison is extremely valuable; the people who were building that upright piano were probably of a similar level of skill to the engineer buying it, so it's interesting to think how much engineer-time would be necessary to build the piano. Including all the necessary mark-ups from the supplier, and a reasonable profit margin, I suppose it's inevitable that a piano will be an expensive item.

It's also a lot more expensive in salary terms than a modern piano.


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#25 Acciaccatura

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Posted 14 August 2017 - 08:34

ooh, thanks Acciaccatura and Erard.

The piano/engineer comparison is extremely valuable; the people who were building that upright piano were probably of a similar level of skill to the engineer buying it, so it's interesting to think how much engineer-time would be necessary to build the piano. Including all the necessary mark-ups from the supplier, and a reasonable profit margin, I suppose it's inevitable that a piano will be an expensive item.

It's also a lot more expensive in salary terms than a modern piano.

 

The engineer in question had a degree and worked in improving production line equipment, so I believe he earned more than the people making the piano, so it would apparently take more than half a year for one person to build a piano from scratch working full-time.

 

I was actually more surprised by the price of a violin - if his salary was above average and it cost more than half of a monthly income, let's  say that it cost about an average monthly salary, so in today's terms about £2000. I wonder what did people do when their children grew out of it...

 

Another interesting question is how that affected the parents' attitude to practice. I don't suppose many people would be happy to spend these amounts and then not enforce daily practice (even overly so - "I've spent a year saving up for you to have this piano, so I want to see you siting at it, not running outside with a ball" is totally imaginable in the circumstances). 


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#26 elemimele

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Posted 14 August 2017 - 11:06

It is quite frightening. It also made me look at the prices of modern recorders, compared to my salary and level of skill/education. There are people out there offering hand-made descant or treble recorders for as little as £200, which would translate to about 4 hours of my time, including all the overheads etc. associated with me existing in my place of work; I suspect those makers are being rather over-generous with their time. There are, of course, makers who'd charge at least 10 times more; it's not impossible that they really are spending 30 hours on making a single instrument, and using a very expensive piece of tropical timber as a starting material.

 

Yes, you're right, the violin is a bit of a surprising statistic. A workshop turning out nothing-special violins as quickly as it can ought to be able to knock them out at a rate faster than 2 per month of human time??

 

It is strange how things change; I'm thinking also of a multitude of smallish church organs, installed in parish churches that served communities of a few thousand people at most. I can't see how they could ever afford to have such an expensive instrument built. Today I hardly imagine any but the wealthiest city parish being able to consider a new organ.

 

I suspect a lot of family instruments used by children would be hand-me-downs, and maybe people weren't so fussy about making sure the instrument was the correct size for the child?


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#27 erard

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Posted 14 August 2017 - 18:44

I wonder if there might also have been more instrument sharing - rather than one player one instrument - so kids might all go to the extended family's piano to practice, or the small violin serve several people at once.


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